Christus Victor Explained

Christus Victor Explained

A short explanation of the Christus Victor theory

These are just some notes a friend of mine took many years ago during our lectures. So they are not an extended explanation but just a brief overview.


Developed by Gustaf Aulén (May 15, 1879 – December 16, 1977) the Lutheran professor and Bishop of Strängnäs in the Church of Sweden, the Christus Victor theory of the Atonement refers to the understanding and view of Christ’s death as the means by which the powers of evil, which held humankind under their dominion, were defeated (Morris 1984).

The Theory

  • Argued by Aulén as the predominant view of the atonement held by the early church and the first thousand years of church history, as well as supported by nearly every Church Father of the Patristic period including Irenaeus, Origen of Alexandria, Ambrose and Augustine of Hippo.
  • Although sometimes referred to as the Revived Ransom theory, proper understanding of the view will make clear that it is not concerned with the payment of ransom to the devil, but with the motif of the liberation of humanity from the bondage of sin, death, and the devil.
  • “Its central theme is the idea of the Atonement as a Divine conflict and victory; Christ – Christus Victor – fights against and triumphs over the evil powers of the world, the ‘tyrants’ under which mankind is in bondage and suffering, and in Him God reconciles the world to Himself” (Aulén 1958).
  • Not the most popular of the theories, but still becoming increasingly popular amongst paleo-orthodox evangelicals, liberal Christians and churches such as; Anabaptists.

In Favour

  • Role of the Trinity and the Law in Christus Victor are emphasized as divine continuity and a legal discontinuity, while the opposite emphasis is associated in the Satisfaction Theory created by Anselm of Canterbury.
  • Scriptural support includes: Colossians 1:13; 2:13–15, 1 John 3:8; 4:4, Hebrews 2:14–15
  • The theory is rooted in the Incarnation of Christ and how He entered into human misery and sinfulness so that He could fulfil the will of the Father by redeeming the world.
  • Not only concentrates on the death of Jesus Christ, but also on the life He lived and the example left.


  • It has been argued that when Scripture uses Christus Victor language it grounds it in penal substitution. Col. 2:13-14 can also be used as an example of this.
  • Churches who promote the Christus Victor theory of atonement have been accused of ignoring or avoiding the need for forgiveness in prayer.
  • Compared to the Penal Substitution theory, Christus Victor does not make Satan’s role very clear in regards to the cross.

Contemporary Relevance to the Christian Faith

  • Modern day writers and theologians such as; Gregory Boyd, C.S. Lewis, N.T. Wright and Pr. Mark Driscoll are found supporting Christus Victor as a key analogy of the different aspects of the atonement.
  • N.T. Wright suggests we give priority “to those Pauline expressions of the crucifixion of Jesus which describe it as the decisive victory over the ‘principalities and powers’” (Wright 1988: 47)
  • Its influence in Christian songwriters has been noted. Don Francisco’s ‘He’s Alive’ performed by David Phelps is the perfect example of such influence.
  • In the film ‘The Passion of Christ’ although somewhat controversial and slanted towards the theory of Penal Substitution, the scriptwriter chose to portray Jesus’ rising and walking out of the tomb as the last scene, suggesting the theology of Christus Victor.


Sanders, F. (May 15, 2009) Gustaf Aulén, Lundensian Theologian [Accessed 24 May 2012]

Morris, L. (1984) Theories of the Atonement in Elwell Evangelical Dictionary

Gustaf, A. (1958) Christus Victor, New York; Macmillan

Wright, N.T. (1998) What Saint Paul Really Said, Grand Rapids, MI; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Driscoll, M. (February 05, 2008) Spiritual Warfare, Part 3: Christus Victor [Accessed 24 May 2012]

Wright, T. (24 September, 2009) Tom Wright THE ATOMEMENT DEBATE 0.43-3.32 sec. [Accessed 24 May 2012]

The Passion of the Christ. (2004) Directed by Mel Gibson. Los Angeles, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment [DVD]

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